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(3) Tampa Bay Lightning (0-0) at (2) New Jersey Devils (0-0), 7 p.m.
(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils open the
second stage of the Stanley Cup journey tonight when they clash in Game 1 of
their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Meadowlands.
The Atlantic Division-champion Devils are back in the second round on the
heels of last year's quarterfinal upset at the hands of Carolina. In Round 1
this spring, the Devils advanced with relative ease, disposing of the Boston
Bruins in five games.
As per the norm, Martin Brodeur was at the center of the dominance, posting a
1.69 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and two shutouts in five
Of course, Brodeur also had some help from his friends along the way, as the
Pat Burns-guided club played its traditional lockdown brand of hockey,
especially after building a lead. The checking line of former Selke winner
John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Turner Stevenson minimized the Bruins' top duo
of Joe Thornton and Glen Murray. Madden and future Hall of Famer Scott Stevens
were in Thornton's face all series and limited the NHL's third-leading scorer
to a goal and two assists.
Madden's line, which may or may not include Sergei Brylin, who is returning
from a wrist injury, will now be charged with shutting down Tampa Bay's top
trio of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal. The potent
unit was assembled after Game 2 of the Lightning's series with Washington, and
accounted for all but one of the team's 11 goals the rest of the way.
Madden, however, is making an impact offensively as well, leading the club
with eight points (2g, 6a). His contribution was clearly welcomed for a team
that had its share of trouble finding the net in the regular season, but the
play of winger Jamie Langenbrunner was crucial. The former Dallas Star posted
a club-high five goals and spurred hope that he could put together a run like
he did in Big D. In 1999, Langenbrunner scored 10 goals in 23 playoff games
while helping the Stars win the Stanley Cup.
Aside from Langenbrunner and Madden, though, no other Devil managed more than
one goal. That includes leading scorer from the regular season, Patrik Elias,
who was shut out.
As for the Southeast Division-champion Lightning, they got rid of the Capitals
in six games, winning four straight after falling behind 0-2. St. Louis was
the lead catalyst, scoring five goals -- including three consecutive game-
winners. He tallied the series- clincher in triple-overtime at the MCI Center
in Washington on Sunday.
St. Louis' line won't be intimidated by going against Madden and Co., as it
had success against a very good checking unit versus the Caps. The Capitals
possess one of the top shutdown lines around in Jeff Halpern, Steve
Konowalchuk and Mike Grier, but the latter part of the series saw them do a
lot of futile chasing.
Captain Dave Andreychuk, a former Devil, scored the only other goal for Tampa
Bay in the final four games against Washington. He, along with the likes of
Fredrik Modin, Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko must produce, because the
Devils are unlikely to lose to a "one-line team."
Last but not least, of course, is goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who had folks
on the Gulf Coast worried a bit after the first two games. He was clearly
outplayed by counterpart Olaf Kolzig early on, and his past playoff demons
But as the Lightning turned around as a team, so did the Bulin Wall. The
Russian star was able to outduel Kolzig in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3,
and allowed a meager three goals the rest of the way. He finished things off
with a tremendous 60-save effort in the clincher.
Tampa Bay is 0-2 all-time in series openers, while New Jersey is 14-14 in Game
1s during its history. The Devils have gone on to win 10 times when they take
the first game of a playoff series.
The Lightning and Devils went 1-1-2 against each other this season, and Tampa
is 4-1-3 in the last eight meetings. The Bolts are 2-1-1 in their last four
trips to the Meadowlands.
Game 2 will played Saturday afternoon at the Meadowlands.
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